San Diego, Calif., U.S.: Nordic Semiconductor has announced a remote control reference design that uses 2.4-GHz RF to enable the use of advanced human-machine interfaces such as touchpads by consuming very little power. The nRFready 2.4-GHz Smart Remote reference design features a multi-touch touchpad, six-axis motion sensing, and a full QWERTY keyboard (see the figure). It uses Nordic’s nRF24L series of systems-on-a-chip combined with its Gazell 2.4-GHz RF protocol stack.
Since TVs and set-top boxes are increasingly becoming Internet-enabled, advanced navigation and browsing control is required to maintain a rich and engaging user experience. The more complex TV and set-top box GUIs become, the more IR remote controls are found to be inadequate. RF has been used in remotes to allow higher levels of data transfer between the remote and TV, but the problem is that it is usually pretty thirsty.
“You shouldn’t have to dock your remote control every day \\[to charge it\\],” said Thomas Embla Bonnerud, product manager at Nordic Semiconductor. “That’s where ultra-low-power wireless comes in. IR and buttons is not the solution.”
Tom Dubil, commercial manager for the Americas at Philips Communication and Control, showed off one of Philips’ TV remotes with a touchpad that uses a proprietary protocol on a Nordic radio IC, saying that it could last two or three months powered by a coin cell or up to a year from AAA batteries. Replacing the touchpad with buttons extended the coin cell’s battery life to five years.
“When you’re doing this kind of swiping, IR has its limitations,” he said. “RF is fast and responsive, and lower power, so we can make better form factors that are more ergonomic and have fewer buttons.”
Another big challenge for remote controls is that they have to work in an environment that’s becoming increasingly noisy with other Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices present. Nordic says the combination of its hardware and Gazell 2.4-GHz protocol in the Smart Remote reference design delivers the bandwidth, latency, and co-existence performance to support all its advanced features in this environment. It also includes an IR LED for communicating with legacy devices.
The design’s Synaptics multi-touch touchpad supports pointing, scrolling, and tapping gestures as well as a range of more sophisticated gestures, like zoom, flick, and rotate, with custom gestures also a possibility. The design additionally uses an ultra-low-power accelerometer from STMicroelectronics to enable intelligent power management and for orientation detection if required.
The six-axis motion sensor solution is based on Invensense’s MPU-6050, which is an integrated three-axis gyroscope plus three-axis accelerometer combination.
The nRFready 2.4-GHz RF Smart Remote reference design kit includes the Nordic Smart Remote baseboard, the Smart Remote 2.4-GHz radio module, a 2.4-GHz RF dongle, a programming adapter, and a complete set of design files, software source code, and supporting documentation.